The New Religion
Christians everywhere are being lured into a cult of fear. News media has gotten into the habit of making everything it reports about into a “moral” issue, an “existential” issue, and a “crisis”:
“Why Canceling Student Debt is a Moral Issue” - Mic.com, Iowa State University, Dec 2, 2020
“How to Understand Social Distancing as a Moral Issue” - Futurity.com, April 6, 2020
“When Turning 30 Becomes an Existential Crisis” - The Washington Post, Dec 31, 2020
“Why Donald Trump Poses an Existential Threat to the Future of the Republican Party” - CNN, Jan 2, 2021
“Harnessing Market Forces for Good Can Ease America’s Growing Housing Crisis” - CNBC, Jan 6, 2021
“World Bank Calls for Rapid Action to Prevent Covid Debt Crisis” - The Guardian, Jan 5, 2021
“In 2020, LSU Football's Brand has Quickly Turned from Champions to Crisis” - The Advocate, Dec 9, 2020
According to the media, nearly every aspect of our lives is in crisis. And in every case (so the mantra goes) if we don't fix the problem today, lives will be lost tomorrow.
I want to encourage you not to live according to the fearful attitude of this world. The Bible says that God has not given us a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7a). This means that it isn't a normal healthy part of the Christian life to be fearful about what's happening. If we choose to believe in crisis after crisis, the resulting panic will cause our trust in God to be sapped away from us. Instead of fear, God has given us a spirit of power, love, and sound judgment (2 Timothy 1:7b). God wants us to confront all this paranoia with strength and discernment guided by his infallible word.
I believe all of these so-called crises are really a distraction from the true crisis: people are giving in to fear and giving up on God.
Unfortunately, the church has been caught off-guard by this epidemic of fear. The fear-mongering of the modern news media would have us think that its worldly concerns overshadow God’s sovereignty. If we don't vaccinate ourselves against it, this fear will sap us of spiritual vitality.
One of the clearest demonstrations of someone's spiritual vitality is his or her commitment to worship and serve in the local church. And the statistics on that are stunningly bad.
Church attendance amongst professing Christians plummeted in 2020. A Barna poll in July found that nearly 1/3 of professing Christians stopped watching church live streams while the government prohibited in-person attendance in response to the Covid-19 virus. Then, as churches re-opened, a Lifeway study reported that most churches saw current attendance drop 40% in comparison to pre-Covid attendance.
In short, many professing Christians dropped out and stayed out.
Interestingly, even secular researchers are confirming that decreasing church attendance is having a negative effect on Americans.
Two studies, one from Harvard and one from Gallup, show that weekly church attendance reduces the occurrence of depression. The Harvard study, conducted in 2018-19, found that people who went to church regularly suffered from less depression and less despair.
The Gallup poll found that mental health improved in only one group this year: those who attend religious services weekly. Those who attended 1-3 times every month reported a 4% drop in mental health. Those who attended seldom or never were down 13%.
Why is church attendance so closely linked with mental health?
God designed the church to drive away fear, connect us to Christ, teach us about forgiveness, and make us bold witness for him. The Bible teaches that those things must happen in the community known as the church. In the New Testament, the phrase “one another” occurs 59 times. In the book of 1 Corinthians, the idea that the church is to “come together” occurs 7 times. We were not made to live out individual spiritual lives disconnected from Christ’s church. We need each other to grow strong in the Spirit.
The Bible gives us so many wonderful promises about the good he will do in us as we gather together. As we gather, the Spirit himself, through the message about Jesus Christ, dwells among us (Ephesians 5:18-20). As we engage in worship and admonish one another, gratitude fills our hearts and overflows to each other (Colossians 3:16). This can’t happen individually because we can’t individually learn from ourselves, admonish ourselves, and celebrate all the good God is doing among us. God has given each of us a gift that is only effective when used in concert with the rest of the congregation (1 Corinthians 14:12).
When we persist in coming together as God commands, and we don’t neglect that opportunity, according to Hebrews 10 we are “encouraged”. That’s the opposite of being frightened.
Don’t give in to the fad of fear. Be at peace in the cacophony of crises. Find your identity in God and grow strong together with his faithful followers.